A puzzle of light and dark: Stuttgart Ballet in Taiyō to Tsuki

July 3, 2020

David Mead

Taiyō to Tsuki, by former Ballett am Rhein artistic director Martin Schläpfer, who is set to take over at the Staatsballett in Vienna in September, is an unusual work; a ballet very much of two very different halves. The title comes from the Japanese for ‘sun and moon’. Something of a puzzle and enigma, it’s certainly a work of light and darkness; of speedy virtuosity and stillness.

The longer opening part the 40-minute ballet is to Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.3. Schläpfer’s light, neo-classical dance merges absolutely with the music, even if the latter does sometimes feel overpowering. The symphony doesn’t have a slow movement as such and sure enough the choreography buzzes.

Anna Osadcenko and David Moore in Taiyō to TsukiPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Anna Osadcenko and David Moore in Taiyō to Tsuki
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

With the dancers in Florian Etti’s subdued-colour, everyday costumes, ever changing partnerships and groups come and go. The partnering shifts between intimate and personal, especially I found in the opening duet between Friedemann Vogel and David Moore, to out and out classical. You never quite know what is coming. It’s littered with moments of elegance and virtuosity, and humour and idiosyncrasy, the latter especially in one pas de deux.

Led by Hyo-Jung Kang, Miriam Kacerova and Anna Osadcenko, the women are strong and determined. A pointe shoe used to poke a partner or placed firmly in the palm of his hand makes their outlook clear. There are moments that indicate a deeper meaning too, not least the opening that has Vogel in a brooding pose, holding his head held in his arms.

I suspect most people will favour one part of the ballet over the other. As enjoyable as the dance to the Schubert is, I much prefer the enigmatic and mysterious world that Schläpfer creates to Toshio Hosokawa’s Ferne Landschaft III: Seascapes of Fukuyama in the second half. It not only binds together better, but the very nature of Hosokawa’s score allows more choreographic freedom.

Timor Afshar, Daniele Silingardi and Marino Semenzato in Taiyō to Tsuki by Martin SchläpferPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Timor Afshar, Daniele Silingardi and Marino Semenzato
in Taiyō to Tsuki by Martin Schläpfer
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

The music opens with metallophones and percussion instruments from Japan, along with bell-like sounds. Just as darkness and silence pervade the music, now an air of mystery and frequents the dance. Changes in both drift in and out. The dancers seem to float on the score. It’s almost as if the work has somehow drifted into another world, one somewhere between life and death. Content and meaning are vague, yet I found it incredibly spellbinding.

The end is as contemplative as the rest of the second half. Taiyō to Tsuki doesn’t reach any sort of conclusion but simply fades away quietly with nothing resolved. But what a fading away. To the right is a group in a thoughtful tableau. To the right, a hand is brought to a forehead a couple of times, perhaps something to do with a memory of what was, before the curtain slowly and silently falls. It’s beautiful and leaves a striking imprint in the mind.